Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Lita McClinton Sullivan Murder Case

Slipping Through the Net

Angered by Sullivan's legal escape from criminal charges, Lita's parents launched a civil suit against their former son-in-law for the wrongful death of their daughter. In February 1994, the McClintons won the suit and were awarded $3.7 million, but the District Court of Appeals overturned the ruling, finding that the case had not been filed within the statute of limitations. Once again Sullivan, who according to Dominick Dunne "seemed to have more lives than a cat," had managed to avoid legal consequences in connection with Lita's murder.

Phillip Anthony Harwood
Phillip Anthony Harwood

However, his lucky streak wouldn't last. In January 1998, the police received a tip after the airing of a television show detailing Lita's murder and the related investigation. The tipster, a woman residing in Texas, claimed to have "recognized Sullivan as the man who paid $25,000 to her former boyfriend, a long-distance trucker named Philip Anthony Harwood," Niesse reported. She claimed that she had heard first hand during the men's conversation that the money was to be paid upon the death of Sullivan's wife.

Harwood, 47, was later interviewed by police. It didn't take long for him to crumble. During questioning, he admitted that he had met Sullivan in November 1986 when he had moved the millionaire's belongings from Macon, Ga., to Palm Beach. Shortly thereafter, Sullivan had approached him with the murder-for-hire scheme, which he had agreed to carry out.

Based on the new evidence, Harwood was arrested on murder charges in April 1998. The police then turned their attention to Sullivan now that they finally had the first hard evidence directly linking him to Lita's murder. Finally, in May 1998, 13 years after Lita had been found dead, an arrest warrant was issued for Sullivan's arrest. However, "the slippery suspect had one last trick up his sleeve," Dunne reported.

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